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Fed's Evans wants no rate hikes until early 2016

Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans speaks during the Sasin Bangkok Forum July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve should wait until next year before raising interest rates or risk undermining the very recovery it has helped engineer, a top U.S. central banker said on Wednesday.

"Given uncomfortably low inflation and an uncertain global environment, there are few benefits and significant risks to increasing interest rates prematurely," Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans told the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Rotary Club. A rate hike will be not be appropriate until "early 2016," he told reporters afterward.

Evans, a voting member this year on the Fed's policy-setting panel, stands nearly alone at the central bank with that view.

Many of his colleagues have said they are open to, if not eager for, rate hikes to begin as soon as June, and investors are keenly focused on whether Fed policymakers this month will open a door to that possibility by removing a vow to be "patient" in raising rates.

Perhaps surprisingly, Evans suggested he would not necessarily oppose such a tweak.

"What’s important is that our Fed communications convey a sufficient amount of conditionality," he told reporters. "There are different ways of writing the language that convey that conditionality, and you know, I can view those as acceptable."

Still, Evans said, "June is a little bit early" to be confident that inflation, now well below the Fed's 2 percent target, is heading higher. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last month she would want to be "reasonably" confident on the inflation outlook before raising rates.

Even if the Fed keeps rates at their near-zero level until next year, Evans said, inflation probably will not reach the Fed's goal until the end of 2018. If his forecast proves wrong and the economy begins to run too hot, too fast, he said, the Fed would have "ample time" to raise rates moderately to head off excessively high inflation.

Evans said he expects the U.S. economy to grow at a 3 percent pace over the next couple of years, generating job gains of over 200,000 a month for some time.

But that is not enough to justify raising rates, he said. Unemployment, at 5.7 percent, is still above the 5 percent he believes is sustainable for the economy in the longer run.

More importantly, inflation is much too low, he said.

Before raising rates, he said, he would like to see core inflation, market-based inflation expectations and wages rise.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)